Students love #fishsci

We are expanding how much fish science we undertake in the Coral Reef Research Units and Freshwater lab mostly because of the demand from students to get involved. We are particularly interested in how temperate and tropical reefscapes respond to changes in herbivory and how fishes respond to environmental change – ocean acidification and temperature in particular.

These are two new additions to the group – some tomato clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus) – that like our common or true clownfish we are hoping will breed.

Diversity is everything including everyone

Its easy to take diversity for granted. And I really do mean that in all sense of the meanings of diversity. As part of a ‘Uni’ training course I am working in a team with four colleagues from across the campus who I would have otherwise never met – from Law, Marketing and  Human Resources. Not only are we diverse but our project is about how others view diversity in the people they meet on campus – never quite such an important topic have I had the pleasure to work on and especially so in the current socio-political climate when “ecology rules” – i.e. when competition and hardship is perceived cooperation declines.

But it also strikes me exactly how diverse our PGR/PGT research community is. Over the last few months I have recruited four new Tropical Marine Biology masters. They are amazing and they are just this week embarking on their projects – two in the field studying Herbivory in the Indo-Pacific and the Mediterranean and two working in the #fishsci labs on fish growth and behaviour. In addition we have two Masters by dissertation students – who are working on development of sustainable marine economic policy and reef herbivory respectively.

Half of this group are not from the UK. Of those 2/3 are not from Europe. Isn’t that wonderful! Just amazing that as a person working in lil’ ole British Isles we get to meet people from all over the world. It would be easy to take this for granted – it was not always thus – and it would be easily lost.

Are drivers of algal blooms changing?

The classical understanding of what drives blooms of freshwater algae and phytoplankton – warm water and nutrients – probably stands. In fact a recent whole lake experimental study in the USA found that available phosphorous was still the main predictor for cyanobacterial biomass and could be detected in enough time to take preventative action (Pace et al. 2016). But water bodies are variable – especially in size and chemistry and whether this longstanding pattern is ubiquitous is not clear. Here in the south of England we have large eutrophic drinking water reservoirs but little catchment rainfall – so water bodies are often a mix of water sources pumped from what can be different catchments. Despite this an early look at long term data suggests Phosphorous availability is highly correlated with algal biomass.

The problem is long term data is bias – there is more of it in the past when some of the more recent multi-stressors on freshwater environments were not so prominent, especially temperature.

We at Essex  – myself, Eteinne Low-Decarie & Graham Underwood – are investigating the control of algal production, algal community composition and the biochemical feedbacks from algae (e.g. gases) in reservoirs in southern England. We will be starting up a number of lab and field based projects over the coming months and one such project – characterising control of algal production in pelagic and littoral reservoir habitats – is starting this week spearheaded by PhD student Amie Parris. So look out for our updates on Twitter!

Fiona joins the team in Biology At Essex

Fiona Watson has just started her PhD in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex in a collaboration between Edd Codling in Mathematics and Leanne Appleby Hepburn and myself in Biology. Fiona will be investigating the role of movement and dispersal (note that they are different :0)  ) in interactions between fisheries managements and marine protected areas. Welcome Fiona!

Amie joins us to study drivers and risks of toxic algal blooms

Amie Parris has just joined my group. Her PhD, co-supervised by Etienne Low-decarie, will focus on the drivers of algal blooms and particularly those blooms associated with producing toxins that are harmful to human health. Amie’s interest is in the spatial variation of blooms and the problems – and opportunities –  that can bring for detection and management. We will be working with a number of external stakeholders and as Amie has joined the excellent EnvEast DTP you may see her at upcoming meetings at Essex and UEA.

Peter Abrams objects and we reply

Peter Abrams has suggested that our Trends paper does not review enough literature and therefore is premature in dismissing mechanisms he has suggested are likely to give rise to positive population responses to mortality in nature. We disagree that it is premature but we agree more empirical work is required, particularly with model organisms that are more likely to be represented by his models so his predictions can be tested. We welcome this discussion.

New Paper in Trends in Ecology & Evolution – Less can be more

Despite being pointed out in various experiments since the very beginning of the science of ecology, there is little current appreciation for the role of density dependence in producing positive population responses to mortality. In such cases, population abundance responds initially positively to increasing mortality until a point when the mortality first reduces this positive effect, then eventually leads to population decline. A number of authors have begun to explore this phenomenon in recent years and have proposed different views as to how they can come about. Here we reviewed those proposed mechanisms and crucially looked to experimental evidence in the laboratory and in the wild that helped us to differentiate between which mechanism is more likely to occur in nature.